Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Steelers

BUC-king Trends: The Numbers Behind Tampa’s Unlikely Upset of Pittsburgh

1 Oct

By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report

Tampa's Vincent Jackson catches the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon in a 27-24 win over the Steelers.

Tampa’s Vincent Jackson catches the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon in a 27-24 win over the Steelers.

When it comes to upsets, you will be hard pressed to find one historically more unlikely this season than Sunday’s Tampa Bay win over Pittsburgh.

Think that’s an overstatement?

Consider: the Steelers’ highest winning percentage against any franchise in the league before Sunday? .889 against the Bucs. Before the 27-24 shocker, the Bucs had not beaten the Steelers in 16 years (a 16-3 defensive struggle in Tampa late in the 1998 season). The Bucs were 1-8 all-time against the Steelers and were 0-3 in Pittsburgh.

A small sample size for sure. But Steelers-Bucs was the definition of a one-sided rivalry; late in 1976, when the expansion Bucs were arguably the worst team of all-time, they faced the Steel Curtain defense in Pittsburgh at the peak of its powers … And the results were predictable. Pittsburgh won 42-0 in a game that easily could have been 70-0. In the two games in Pittsburgh that followed, the Bucs not only didn’t win, but failed to score a touchdown, getting outscored 79-15 before Sunday.

Talk about putrid. Five field goals in 12 quarters in Pittsburgh. An average of 198 yards total offense in those three games or barely more than half the 350 the Bucs put up Sunday.

Had the Steelers known any of this they could be forgiven for being overconfident, particularly when they still had the lead in the fourth quarter. With Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator at home, the Steelers were 65-0 when leading in the fourth quarter before Mike Glennon’s five-yard touchdown toss to a diving Vincent Jackson with seven seconds left.

This not only gave the Bucs the most points they have ever scored in a game against the Steelers, but marked only the third time they ever managed to score more than 16 against them.

Fox producers were so sure that the Bucs wouldn’t win that with 1:35 to go they took a page out of NBC prematurely congratulating the Boston Red Sox for winning the 1986 World Series over the New York Mets; Fox flashed the graphic that NFL teams that start 3-1 make the playoffs 65 percent of the time and had Steelers 3-1 in bold underneath the stat.

Talk about a kiss of death.

In the bigger picture what will this mean? Maybe more for the Steelers than the Bucs, who must travel to New Orleans in Week Five. But if you’re Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, could you ask for a more dramatic turnaround in 10 days following the humiliating 56-14 demolition at Atlanta?

When all three NFC South teams also lost on Sunday, it marked the first time in 106 games, going back to Game 10 of the 2007 season when the Bucs won and gained a game on all three division rivals. That’s pre-Greg Schiano, pre-Raheem Morris, going back to Jon Gruden’s next-to-last season in Tampa.

Since no one in the division owns a winning record, the Bucs, who entered Sunday with a minus-50 point differential, are back to within a game of first place and can move into a tie for the top spot with a win and losses by injury-riddled Carolina and Atlanta.

Not that the Bucs have had much of a chance to gain ground on anyone of late before Sunday, they were 11-34 over their previous 45 games. That’s not just a little slump; it’s the Bucs’ worst 45-game stretch since the Ray Perkins-Leeman Bennett days more than a quarter century ago.

And the Steelers against NFC South opponents? The polar opposite.

Fresh off a romp over the defending division champion Panthers, Pittsburgh was 32-11-1 all-time against the four NFC South teams. The majority of those 44 games weren’t scoring shootouts either; only seven times did teams that are now part of the NFC South score as many as 27 points in a game … And only twice ever in Pittsburgh (in a history that goes back to 1966).

One-game aberration? Fluke or change in longstanding trend? We will leave that for another day.

But to the Bucs’ delight and Steelers’ dismay, Sunday’s game turned history on its ear.

Eagles Moving Closer to Being Ready for the Regular Season

24 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Perhaps the biggest questions for the Eagles coming into the 2014 season is how much has their defense improved and can the offense put up even bigger numbers than they did last season?

On the defensive side of the ball, the answer  has come with some uncertainty throughout the preseason. Last week against the New England Patriots, the Birds starters and reserves got pushed up and down the field for over 400 yards of offense.

The Eagles starters on defense got a better sense of themselves in the Birds 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial  in the pivotal third preseason game, considered to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds held Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to 94 yards in the first half before letting the second team take over late in the first half. It was a good bounce-back from their performance against the Patriots.

What impressed defensive coordinator Bill Davis was the way his team got off the field on third down situations, something they didn’t do against the Patriots. The Eagles starters were 3-of-7 in stopping third down conversions.

“It was real nice and we know third downs are a point of emphasis for us,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been good enough, we moved forward. … We have to do better than we did tonight, but I did like the way it got better.”

With the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept. 7) on the horizon, the defense still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the regular season.

“Personally, you should never be satisfied,” said Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. “We have room to improve. I think we’re ready, but there’s always room to improve. While we’re on the right road and everything’s in the right direction and looking good out there, now we can improve on the positive things that we took from this game and improve all week.”

The only disclaimer to the Eagles improved play on defense is that they were facing a bad Steelers offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers and they just couldn’t establish any kind of rhythm offensively.  Quite frankly, the Steelers were just awful on offense and didn’t get on the scoreboard until the second half when the Eagles second team took the field.
If there’s a unit that is ready to start the season, it’s the Eagles offense. During their stint on the field in the first half, the Birds first-team offense rolled out to a 17-0 halftime lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to LeSean McCoy, a one-yard run from running back Darren Sproles and a 36-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

With the preseason behind the first-team starters on offense, the Birds seem to be pleased with the progress they’ve made from the first preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

“I feel like we’ve improved as a unit and as a team,” said Foles, who completed 19-of-29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “There are a lot of corrections to make from this game, but I feel like we out there and got in a rhythm faster and started moving the football. “

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The one thing the Eagles will have when they open the season is their starting wide receivers—Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Things got scary midway through the first half when Maclin’s right knee buckled into the Lincoln Financial Field turf. The crowd held its collective breath with Maclin writhing in pain from the same knee that put him on the injured reserve list last season.

After returning to the sideline, Maclin started running like normal and eventually got back out on the field. But he admitted that he got a little worried.

“Absolutely, it is something that brought back flashbacks,” said Maclin, who caught six passes 43 yards. “When I got up and could walk when the initial shock went away. I was pretty good.”

The Eagles have one last preseason game next Thursday (Aug.28) against the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be played by second and third string guys still trying to make the team.

Notes- On Saturday, the Eagles cut 14 players. All NFL teams must cut down their rosters to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Eagles roster currently stands at 76. Here are the players who were released:
TE Blake Annen
OL Michael Bamiro
OL Karim Barton
WR Kadron Boone
WR B.J. Cunningham
OL Donald Hawkins
TE Emil Igwenagu
LB Jake Knott
DE Joe Kruger
S Daytawion Lowe
DE Frances Mays
S Davon Morgan
K Carey Spear
DE Alejandro Villanueva

Finding Success When One Door Closes and Another One Opens

22 May

Can Dennis Dixon Join a List of Players Who Found the Right Situation to Display Their Talents?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

PHILADELPHIA—I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that successful athletes not only have the raw ability and the determination to work at bettering themselves in their sport, being in the right place at the right time or having the right people around you—i.e. teammates or coaches-is also a determining factor.

Covering the Eagles organized team activities for the last couple of weeks, the one player that I see that could be an interesting case of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph is Dennis Dixon, who is competing for the Eagles starting quarterback spot.

So far, he is the one quarterback in Eagles camp that seems to have a firm grasp of head coach Chip Kelly’s. After playing in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a backup, Dixon is hoping that he can take that experience in addition to what he learned playing for Kelly at Oregon and be the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.

“I thought that one thing I’ve learned is leadership and you got to make sure that the other 10 guys are all ready to go,” Dixon said after practice on Monday. “At the end of the day, you got to be able to know your plays.”

Dixon is one of those interesting studies in what if his circumstances were different? During his senior year in 2007 with the Ducks, there was a strong possibility that Dixon would win the Heisman Trophy and be high draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

In the last 10 games of his collegiate career, Dixon had thrown 20 touchdown passes and threw for 2,136 yards before the injury to his anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season.  His Heisman hopes died and his draft stock plummeted dramatically.

Pittsburgh drafted Dixon in the fifth round to be a backup to Ben Rothlisberger. Oddly enough, Dixon actually started three games during his tenure with the Steelers and had a 2-1 record.

He left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and served as a scout team quarterback as a member of the Baltimore Ravens taxi squad.

I think Dixon’s chances are his good of being the Eagles are as good as anybody else’s considering that he knows the offense better than any of the quarterbacks competing for the job. That certainly bodes well for him.

Maybe this is the point where Dixon’s takes off. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to win that job or not. But if he does and he performs well, it will be another story of a guy finding the right situation to elevate his career.

That is always the beauty of sports is when players can find the right venue to display their talents.  Of course, there are plenty of instances in sports where talented guys have found themselves in the right situation after being cast aside in another circumstance.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

Perhaps the most famous story in sports of an athlete finding the right place to achieve success in his career was that of one John Constantine Unitas.  He is one of the all-time great quarterbacks in NFL history.

But when Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, he was the fourth quarterback on a team that wanted to keep three quarterbacks. Even though he had one of the strongest arms in the Steelers camp that year, Pittsburgh head coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas was not smart enough to be an NFL quarterback and didn’t allow him to take a snap in a game.

When the Baltimore Colts called Unitas in for tryout in 1956, he was living in Pittsburgh and working as a construction worker while playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at six bucks per game.

Of course, you know the rest of the story, Unitas, who called his own plays, became the quarterback who elevated the two-minute drill into an art-form, re-wrote the NFL passing records and led the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl title.

Eagles fans know the story of Randall Cunningham, who actually had a human highlights film of a career with the Birds. Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough playoff games-one to be exact-and was maligned for being just a running quarterback.

During Cunningham’s time in Philadelphia, he never had a good offensive line, a running game, or a good offensive coordinator. Cunningham was ultimately let go a year into then Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes regime.

After a one-year retirement, Cunningham was back up quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997 and came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a comeback win over the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard game.

In 1998, Cunningham became the starter of the Vikings after Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Working with offensive coordinator Brian Billick and armed with receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he threw 34 touchdowns and passed for 3,704 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes.

It was the best statistical year of his career. You have to wonder what would have happened if Cunningham had good offensive assistant coaches like Billick who could have really tutored him in perfecting his passing skills earlier in his career.

Equally as important, if Cunningham in his Eagles days would have had a running back like Robert Smith, a more mature Carter (who played with Cunningham in Philadelphia earlier in his career) and a superstar like Moss playing wide receiver, I think could have been an even better quarterback for the Birds.

For the first three years of O.J Simpson’s career in Buffalo, he was considered a bust with a propensity to fumble and could not catch a pass out of the backfield. It looked as if he was going to become another Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t make it in the pros.

In 1972, the Bills brought in Lou Saban to coach the team. Thanks to a couple of offensive linemen, Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL from 1972 to 1976.

Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards in one season. Saban recognized Simpson’s talent as a ball carrier and transformed him from a guy who was going nowhere fast to a player who ran his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

In the middle of the 1964 season, the Chicago Cubs were unhappy with rightfielder Lou Brock, who had trouble fielding his position (especially in Wrigley Field) and wasn’t the home run hitter the team had projected him to be.

So the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio, who had 18 wins the previous season. At the time, people covering baseball felt that the Cubs got the best of the deal.

When Brock arrived in St. Louis, Cards manager Johnny Keane moved Brock to left field and told him to focus on using his speed instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park. Brock took Keane’s advice and was the catalyst to the Cardinals run to the 1964 World Series.

Needless to say, Brock finished his career as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He has also had over 3,000 hits with a career batting average of .293. Meanwhile, Broglio won just seven more games for the Cubs before retiring in 1966.

Brock has a statue and plaque highlighting his accomplishments in Cooperstown. One team’s bust becomes another team’s success story.